Grapevine: A chip off the old block

Movers and shakers in Israeli society.

Exterior of Rami Levy HaShikma Marketing supermarket in Givat Shaul, Jerusalem, Israel. (photo credit: YONINAH/WIKIMEDIA COMMONS)
Exterior of Rami Levy HaShikma Marketing supermarket in Givat Shaul, Jerusalem, Israel.
Last week, a whole block of some dozen shops on Jaffa Road and part of Luntz Street was closed – not because of the lockdown but because all the tenants had been evicted. The reason was not because they were in arrears with rent or had caused property damage. It was simply because the owner, French billionaire Laurent Levy, wants to build a multi-story complex that will include a hotel, apartments, shops and office space.
Some of the people who have been evicted come from families who did business on the site for some 40 years. Others came more recently, only within the last two or three years, but invested in new modern shopfronts and redesign of the interior.
Parts of the block date back to the Ottoman period, and have been ear-marked for preservation. But if previous experience is an indication of anything, Levy does not have too much respect for history or for city ordinances. When he bought up property in what is now known as the Music Center, Levy, in creating what he considers to be a cultural square, replete with private museum and restaurants serving French cuisine, broke through some historic construction, but once he had done so, it was too late to do anything about it, other than to slap him with a fine. As he has so much money, he does what he likes – because he can.
Levy owns a large number of real estate holdings in Jerusalem, including one near the Prime Minister’s Residence, where he is building an apartment complex, regardless of the fact that the area is constantly troubled by traffic congestion. For Levy’s opponents, the one consolation is that if Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu remains in office, Levy will have trouble selling or even leasing out the apartments, because potential buyers and occupants will be deterred by the anti-Netanyahu demonstrations.
Among the other properties that Levy owns is the building at the Ben Yehuda-Jaffa intersection that previously housed Bank Leumi.
■ DIVERSITY APPEARS to be the secret of doing well in business. In other words, follow the old maxim of not putting all your eggs in the one basket.
A prime example is Rami Levy, who has come a long way from a poverty-stricken childhood in a one-room shack with shared kitchen and bathroom in Nahlaot, close to the Mahaneh Yehuda market where he started out selling goods at wholesale prices from a storefront in the market’s Hashikma Street. To ensure that he would not forget his origins, Levy named his enterprise Hashikma Marketing, which is now the third largest supermarket chain in the country.
He opened his first supermarket in 1992 and quickly built up a clientele by offering discount prices. His supermarket chain now has 44 stores. In addition, he distributes wholesale to 450 other stores, owns 20 cellular communication stores, owns a shopping mall, has invested in residential real estate – and most recently entered the aviation and tourism industry.
His NIS 75 million bid for ownership of Israir was accepted by the IDB Development trustee, lawyer, Ophir Naor. All that is left to complete the deal is court approval. The transaction will include Israir subsidiaries Skydeal, Natour and Diesenhaus. Presumably, his next venture will be into the hotel industry.
■ JERUSALEM LOST one of its long-term stalwarts last week with the passing at age 89 of Yehoshua Matza, a former deputy mayor, government minister and Knesset Member, but possibly best remembered as a Lehi fighter from the age of 14. He was one of three brothers, each of whom joined another branch of the Jewish underground. One was in the Hagana, one in the Irgun, and Yehoshua in Lehi. Each of them set out individually to thwart the British Mandate authorities. They were 13th generation Jerusalemites, born in the Old City and descended from Greek immigrants.
While still an adolescent, Matza fought in the War of Independence and it was not until 1949 that he resumed his schooling, after which he joined the IDF and was eventually discharged with the rank of captain.
Following his army service, he studied law and accountancy.
Active in politics for much of his adult life, he initially joined the Jerusalem branch of the Herut Party headed by Menachem Begin, and at around the same time, was elected to the Jerusalem City Council where he spent a total of 20 years – 10 of them as deputy mayor. He spent almost as much time as a member of Knesset, serving 18 years, prior his appointment in 2002 as president of Israel Bonds. In that capacity, he relocated to the United States where he remained for nine years before returning to his beloved Jerusalem, where he was appointed chairman of the Menachem and Aliza Begin Legacy Fund.
He was also a Worthy of Jerusalem (Yakir Yerushalayim) and was buried in the special section for such dignitaries at Har Hamenuhot Cemetery. The funeral, which was attended by a small gathering due to coronavirus restrictions, included – in addition to members of the Matza family – President Reuven Rivlin, who served with him in both the Jerusalem Municipality and the Knesset and who eulogized him, and Mayor Moshe Lion. Among the condolence notices published in the Hebrew press were those by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Lion and Israel Maimon, the current president and CEO of Israel Bonds, who collectively referred to Matza’s strengthening of the ties between Israel and the Jewish Diaspora, his wisdom, his integrity and his total dedication to the service of Israel and the Jewish people.
Lion described him as “a symbol and outstanding example of love for Jerusalem and the State of Israel.”
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